Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships
Safety… Mindfulness… Independence. These are just a few of the main hot topics that are explored in my office with men and couples. It might not seem realistic to maintain all of these needs at the same time, but with some guidance and practice, we can certainly work together towards a more hopeful future.
Have you seen the “bed scene” in the movie “The Story Of Us” with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer? It’s hilarious yet exquisitely valid at the same time. Their characters attend a couple’s therapy session where the therapist describes marriage as not only the two people that get married, but marriage also includes their parents as well. This dynamic often shows up in my work as we explore family of origin issues, genetics, and how varied parenting experiences can inform our intimate relationship dynamics.
In this post, we will focus on the importance of safety in a relationship. The next post will include a discussion of mindfulness and independence and the importance each play in your relationship. Both blog posts provide links to important resources and examples which build upon the topic by providing tools and templates for you to take action.
Safety: The Foundation of Happiness and Security
Who doesn’t want to feel safe? We feel loved and cared for when we feel safe. Imagine that safety is like cuddling into a warm, cozy blanket on a cold winter night while drinking a cup of hot cocoa as your Sade album gently crackles on the record player… that’s safety!
The feeling of safety and security in relationships is vital to growing together as a couple. I help the men I work with to think about safety as building trust within relationships. If our partner doesn’t trust us, they won’t feel safe. And if they don’t feel safe, there will be problems of connecting on intimate, physical and sexual levels.
One of the most helpful tips I offer men and couples is to help them learn about their partner’s Love Language. If we are able to “speak” our partner’s Love Language more often, that will help increase the trust and safety within the relationship. Our Love Language can change, mix and switch back and forth over time and this is quite normal.
I also encourage men and couples to practice patience, self-love and to forgive themselves, as nothing changes overnight. We tend to beat ourselves up and talk negatively to ourselves when things don’t automatically change. Change, personal growth and healing take time. Calm down… take a breath… have a relationship plan.
Another helpful resource for the men and couples I work with is the book called “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” by Terry Real. He describes the abusive and traumatic relationship between he and his father. He describes our society as one where boys are taught not to have or express feelings or emotions. I see this dynamic nearly every day in my office and I am proud of all the men who are brave enough to call “bullshit” on the “boys will be boys” myth and stereotype.
Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships
Welcome back! In part I of this two-part blog series, I discussed the importance of safety in a relationship and what that means to men and couples. In this post, we will discuss two other elements necessary for a fulfilling, intimate, trusting, and lasting relationship: mindfulness, and independence. Please visit the links included in this post to access more information including tools, videos, and tip sheets. Let’s start with Mindfulness.
Mindfulness: Stepping Inward to Live a Genuine and Peaceful Life
Do you ever wonder what exactly is going through a man’s mind? I wonder that myself, and I am a man! As a therapist who works with men who are struggling with relationships, I help men focus on the most important relationship they will ever have – the relationship they have with themselves. If men are unable to love themselves unconditionally, there is absolutely no way we will be capable of loving others with that same vital and unconditional love.
Men’s mindfulness can come in many different shapes and sizes. There are an infinite number of ways that us men incorporate mindfulness in our lives, and most of the time, we don’t even realize it. Petting the dog, playing catch, taking a walk, working out, slowly eating a sandwich, cooking, cleaning the house, making love… the list goes on and on. We often forget or dismiss that these activities are indeed mindfulness practices.
My hope is that more courageous men intentionally practice mindfulness, especially within the relationship we have with our partner. We need to put our phones down, turn off Netflix and listen to each other. I mean REALLY listen! Be curious and ask questions about what our partner is talking about. Not in an accusatory way, but in a calm and gentle way. By emotionally connecting with our partner, we improve our active listening skills which can help enhance and strengthen our relationships with our partner.
Independence: Absence CAN Make the Heart Grow Fonder
All relationships include sacrifice, compromise and unconditional love. And sometimes, that means that we engage in activities that do not involve our partner. Research finds that the happiest and most fulfilling relationships are ones that allow space and time away from our partner. If this time spent away from each other is viewed as positive, this is a much healthier outlook than if it is seen as selfish or disconnecting.
World renowned therapist, Dr. John Gottman, has researched and studied relationships between couples for decades. Many couples come into my office with various levels of the Four Horsemen alive and present. When criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are active within our intimate relationships, the more difficult it is for couples to grow into a healthy partnership.
We do need to be careful of how much and how often we do separate activities, though. We don’t want our partner resenting our time away from them, and we want to reassure them that we are not looking to escape, but simply have the need to engage in activities with ourselves or others. Assertive communication is key here, which leads us back to safety. Our partners need to know that we are coming back and that we love them unconditionally.
At the end of the day, our partner needs to trust that we will be coming home to them. Local hip hop group Atmosphere (Rhymesayers) has a song called “Always Coming Back Home To You” and I think it fits this sentiment quite nicely. My own interpretation of the song is about the comfort, safety and unconditional love that a committed relationship can provide: “From the heaven I’ve had to the hell I’ve been through I’m always coming back home to you.”
Brian Zirngible is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a solo private practice in Burnsville, MN. He specializes in collaborating with Couples, Men, Creatives and Teens to help them find more peace and balance in their lives. As a husband of 12 years and active performing artist, he understands all of the challenges that being a modern man can bring.
He is excited to co-facilitate a Relationship Workshop on Saturday, April 22nd with relationship coach and owner of Closeted Creatives, Theresa Nutt. To learn more, call him at 952.892.8433 or visit http://www.brianzirngible.com/ to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.